• Saturday, March 02, 2024

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People with bipolar disorder 6 times more likely to die prematurely: study

They are twice as likely to die from physical illnesses like heart and/or respiratory diseases, or cancer, with alcohol being a major contributing factor

By: Kimberly Rodrigues

According to a recent study published in BMJ Mental Health, individuals with bipolar disorder face a significantly higher risk of premature death compared to those without the condition.

The research revealed that people with bipolar disorder are six times more likely to die prematurely from external causes, such as accidents, violence, and suicide.

Additionally, they are twice as likely to die from physical illnesses like heart and/or respiratory diseases, or cancer, with alcohol being a major contributing factor.

The Finnish population-based study, conducted by researchers from Niuvanniemi Hospital in Finland, along with institutes from Sweden and the UK, aimed to shed light on the reasons behind the heightened risk of premature death among individuals with bipolar disorder.

While it has been known that such individuals face an elevated risk, the specific role of physical illnesses in this context had remained unclear until now.

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, is a mental health condition characterised by extreme mood swings that include periods of intense euphoria or mania and episodes of deep depression.

Individuals with bipolar disorder experience alternating cycles of high energy, hyperactivity, impulsivity, and elation during manic phases, followed by periods of low energy, sadness, hopelessness, and lack of interest or pleasure during depressive phases.

The shifts between these mood states can be intense and disruptive, impacting a person’s ability to function in daily life.

For the study, researchers tracked 47,018 individuals with bipolar disorder, and monitored the participants over a period of 14 years (2004-2018).

The average age of the participants at the start of the study was 38 years, and the data was obtained from nationwide medical and social insurance registers. Of those identified, 57 per cent were women.

During the monitoring period, a total of 3,300 individuals with bipolar disorder (7 per cent) died, in contrast to 141,536 deaths observed in the general population without the condition.

The researchers calculated the heightened risk of death among those with bipolar disorder to be six times higher due to external causes and two times higher from physical illnesses.

The average age at the time of death among the participants was 50 years, and approximately two-thirds of the deaths occurred in men.

In the study, it was revealed that out of the 3,300 deaths recorded among individuals with bipolar disorder, 61 per cent (2027 deaths) were attributed to physical causes, while 39 per cent (1273 deaths) were externally caused.

Among the physically caused deaths, alcohol was identified as the leading factor, accounting for 29 per cent (595 deaths). Within this category, liver disease was responsible for nearly half of the deaths, followed by accidental alcohol poisoning and alcohol dependence.

The remaining physically caused deaths were attributed to various factors: heart disease and stroke accounted for 27 per cent, cancer for 22 per cent, respiratory disease for 4 per cent, diabetes for 2 per cent, and other causes for 15-16 per cent.

Regarding the externally caused deaths, suicide was the primary cause, making up 58 per cent of the total.

Within this group, almost half of the suicides were caused by the overdose of prescribed mental health medications, including those used for treating bipolar disorder.

“A balanced consideration between therapeutic response, potential serious long term somatic (physical) side effects of different medicines, and risk of cause-specific premature mortality is needed, especially in younger persons,” the authors wrote in their paper.

“Targeting preventive interventions for substance abuse will likely reduce the mortality gap both due to external causes and somatic causes. Suicide prevention remains a priority, and better awareness of the risk of overdose and other poisonings is warranted,” they said.

(With inputs from PTI)

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